Industry Stats Point to a Promising Start for 2011
By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief
The new year is off to a fast start and promises to be a pretty good one for the service center industry if the market can maintain its momentum.
Metals industry production and shipment data for 2010 shows major improvement, albeit from a weak 2009. The world’s steelmakers produced a record 1.41 billion tons of crude steel in 2010, up 15 percent over 2009. Crude steel production in North America totaled 111.8 million tons, an increase of over 35 percent, even though the mills only operated at 74 percent of capacity.
The United States imported 23.8 million tons of steel in 2010, a 47 percent increase from 2009. At the same time, U.S. steel exports increased by over 30 percent. “We expect these [export] markets to continue to offer good opportunities in 2011,” says David Phelps at the American Institute of International Steel.
Service centers in the U.S. and Canada saw a significant rebound in steel and aluminum shipments in 2010. U.S. service center steel shipments rose more than 20 percent, while Canadian steel shipments rose more than 15 percent. Similarly for aluminum, service center shipments in the U.S. were up over 25 percent, and Canadian shipments were up nearly 8 percent, reports MSCI.
On the demand side, the auto industry continues its amazing comeback, and it’s taking steel suppliers and processors along for the ride. CSM Worldwide forecasts North American light vehicle production of 12.9 million units in 2011, a million more than were built in 2010 and a big jump from the 8.6 million produced in 2009. The market likely won’t approach pre-recession levels of 16 million vehicles again before 2016, however.
The manufacturing sector saw its 18th consecutive month of growth in January, according to the Institute for Supply Management, whose PMI registered 60.8 percent, its highest level since May 2004. (Any reading above 50 indicates expansion.) By ISM’s calculation, a PMI of 60.8 corresponds to a 6.4 percent increase in real GDP on an annual basis, so the economy’s recovery may be accelerating.
The big question on everyone’s mind: Are today’s steel prices for real? The price for a ton of hot-rolled steel jumped nearly 50 percent in just two months, from about $550 in mid-November to over $800 in mid-January. Is demand sufficient to support such an increase or will buyers revolt? Can the mills resist the temptation to overprice and overproduce later in 2011? As one toll processor said, “the second quarter will really dictate what’s going to happen for the rest of the year.”